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Getting Started In Show Business

By Tony Bracegirdle.

Royal National Rose Society. National Champion. 1996-2009

It is an acknowledged fact that numbers of amateur rose exhibitors are in decline.  Each year we see less and less entries on the show bench.  It is a problem that the Royal National Rose Society Shows Committee are mindful of and they are always looking for ways to attract novice exhibitors. With this in mind, I thought I would do my bit to try to stimulate interest and enthusiasm with Society members, who without doubt, grow superb roses, but who have not previously thought to bring them along to one of our shows, displaying them on the show bench for the visitors to admire.

I’ll begin by giving you my system for growing exhibition roses.  It is not the only way to do it, but it is a tried and tested system that I have used for over forty years.   It obviously works for me, so why not give it a try. The best position for growing successful roses is one with a south facing aspect with some shading from the west, so that the full heat of the sun is diffused in the afternoon.   Most gardens will not have anything like this ideal situation, but do not despair, the rose-being such a tolerant plant-will succeed in almost any kind of growing area, with the exception of heavy shade and boggy soil.    On the subject of soil, which soil is the most ideal ?   A good rose soil is one which is of a good quality loam, not waterlogged or sour, but well supplied with plant foods and stiff enough to allow the roots to really get a firm hold.   Most of us will find that the soil in our garden falls short of this ideal.   The beginner who feels he ha little chance of success because his garden is not composed of just the right sort of soil,  should take heart from the fact that many rose growers, myself included, started with a soil that was far from perfect.   First obtain a soil test kit to see if the soil is acid or alkaline.   Slightly acid is best, about pH 6.5  (pH 7 being neutral).   Good roses can be grown on chalky alkaline soil by applying plenty of organic material.   At the other extreme, a heavy sour clay soil needs lime or any kind of gypsum added to make it more alkaline.    Whatever the soil type, and whenever new rose beds are being created, remember that we only prepare these beds once and so a bit of effort is essential, once planted we expect roses to remain in the beds for years.   The soil must be dug 2 spades deep, at the same time incorporating plenty of organic material along with blood, fish and bone at a rate of 135 grams per square metre.   Whe finished allow the beds to stand for at least a month before planting the roses.   When planting, prune the rose roots back to about 20cms, this will encourage the fine feeding roots.    Plant them with the node (the swollen part where the rose was grafted) level with the soil surface.   Prune new bushes quite hard in their first year, about 3 eyes (dormant buds) from the base  in the month of March.   In future years, prune them down to about 50cms, making sure each cut is about 6mm above an eye and sloping slightly away from it.   This hard pruning applies only to modern roses (repeat flowering) , you can be less severe with old garden roses (once flowering), climbers and ramblers.   After pruning the surrounding soil should be sprayed with a proprietary winter wash to see off black spot spores that may have over-wintered.    The beds should then be mulched with a blanket of organic material, well rotted horse manure is my favourite.   Cover the entire bed to a depth of 10cms, this will help to conserve the moisture  in the soil.   In really dry periods of drought it is advisable to apply about 9litres of water to each bush per week.   After pruning, I apply my first feed of the season which is Vitash Q4HN.   The HN stands for high nitrogen and it helps to get the bushes moving quickly.   I apply a second feed of blood fish and bone at the end of may.   The third and final feed of the season—Vitax Q4 (without the high nitrogen) at the end of July coincides with the end of the first flush of bloom.   All the above feeds are applied at 135 grams per aquare metre.   Do not feed the roses after this date as it will only encourage soft sappy growth that will not survive the winter.   I usually start to spray with insecticides and fungicides as soon as the foliage is mature enough to accept a spray, when the leaves turn from red to green.   The products I use are Provado Bug Killer and Systhane fungicide, applied every 14 days until the end of September.   It is a good idea to ring the changes from time to time using different products as both insects  and spores can build up an immunity  to a product if the same one is constantly used.   To obtain better quality blooms, growers of exhibition roses usually dis-bud their large-flowered roses to ane bud per stem, removing all the side buds and only retaining the terminal bud.  With cluster-flowered roses they do the opposite, removing the terminal bud and retaining all the others.    Throughout the summer the faded blooms need to be removed (dead heading), don’t cut the blooms off just below the flower but instead count down five eyes from the flower and cut it off just above the fifth eye.   This kind of summer pruning will give better growth and blooms from this lower cut.   That is my system which has been tried and tested over the years but will only work if you are prepared to stick with it throughout the season.   When deciding which roses to plant it’s a good idea to visit other rose gardens in your area and see which varieties are doing well.   Of course during the summer months you can buy them in containers already in flower.

Be Prepared Having decided which shows to attend study the schedules well in advance.   Check if the schedule gives vase height and sizes, and if it does, make sure that the ones you plan to use conform.   It can be very annoying to be told “not as schedule”  by the judge just because the blooms are in the wrong size of vase !    Obtain a box or bag (i find a briefcase ideal for the job) in which to carry all your exhibiting equipment including essentials as secateurs, scissors, pens,  paper, florist’s wire, tweezers, small brushes and cotton wool buds.   The more time and preparation spent on blooms prior to the show will give you a better chance of winning against exhibitors who, although they may have slightly better roses, don’t spend that little extra time in the preparation.

Cutting The Blooms Roses take up moisture at night and lose it by transpiration during the day.   Early morning is the best time to cut blooms.   I cut my blooms with long stem, two days before a show, placing them in deep plastic buckets of water, to which i add a couple of drops household bleach.   Keep them in a dark place such as a garage or cellar.

Selecting The Blooms The evening before the show is the time to select your blooms.   Discard any with split, disarranged, or damaged petals or poor colour.   Choose only fresh blooms of a sparkling colour, cutting them with stems about 45cms in length.   Refer to the show schedule and decide which blooms are to be used and in which classes they will be entered.   Place them in your carrying crate in the order that they are to be used.   This will save time when you get to the show.   The crate could be an old beer crate, into which you put clean washing-up liquid bottles with their tops sliced off.   Fill the bottles with water and place a stem in each.   It’s wise to cover every other bloom with a thin polythene bag, which ensures that none are touching, eliminating bruising of the petals.

Presentation Presentation is a very important aspect of exhibiting roses.   Points for presentation can be as much as 33% which can mean the difference between winning and losing.   Exhibits should be artistically arranged with even spacing between the blooms, they should be neither gappy nor crushed together.   The whole exhibit should be a balance of blooms, stems and container.   The blooms should predominate and be of good form,  fresh and with good colour.   They should be sparkling in appearance, with stems which are neither too thick nor too thin in relation to the blooms and with clean, undamaged foliage.   In the box classes, only the blooms are considered, these should be slightly larger, but not at the expense of quality and freshness.   If pellets are used to make younger blooms appear more open and to the standard required (half to three quarters open) they should be put into place the evening before the show.   Pellets are small pieces of cotton wool pushed down between the petals to make the bloom more open and larger in appearance.   At the show, make sure all the pellets have been removed.   Any that have been missed could lose up to three points per bloom if spotted by the judge.   The dressing of blooms os the art of reflexing the petals and bringing them down to make the bloom circular in outline.   Don’t reflex the petals to excess as this can make the blooms look artificial, and overdressing is considered by judges as a serious fault and marked down.

Modest Beginnings If the above appears a little daunting, then use it as a guide and start off with some of the easier classes.   The Society has rose classes for non-winners, the schedule is available from HQ.   The novelty class section (fun classes)  are extremely easy and enjoyable to do.   There is a class for a collage of floating blooms in a dish (trifle class)  and also one for a miniature bloom floating in a small bowl.   There is another for a vase of three stems of one variety which is judged purely for scent.   If you want to try something a bit more ambitious, then how about two blooms of large flowered roses in a vase, of one variety, to be judged as a matching pair ?   Or a picture frame with one bloom mounted in it ?    Just bring your blooms to the show, as all the containers for the classes will be provided.   All these classes are well within the scope of the novice exhibitor.


Your Society Needs YOU So come along all you shy rose growers—make a pledge this summer to exhibit your wonderful blooms at one of our national shows.   The one fear that many new exhibitors have, is that their blooms are not good enough for exhibition and that they may be ridiculed by more experienced exhibitors .   This is simply not the case; you will no doubt find that your blooms are equal to others.   Rather than ridicule, most exhibitors will be only too glad to help, giving you the benefit of their knowledge and experience.     We need you and your blooms on the show bench if RNRS Shows are to survive.


 This article was re-produced from the Spring edition of the Rose Magazine by kind permission of

Mr Tony Bracegirdle.



If you have any tips on showing roses, let us have them as we will be only too pleased to post them on our blog/website.

Send your tips to  [email protected]



Full details of Royal National Rose Society Shows can be obtained from the

RNRS Chiswell Green Lane St Albans Hertfordshire AL2 3NR

Tel 0845 833 4344

Web site .


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